Studying Like A Pro, pt. 5: Quizzing Yourself with High-Efficiency Tools

Remember the Golden Learning Equation...

Variation + Repetition = Learn anything!

Far and away the best method of creating variety and repetition—and therefore learning—is by quizzing yourself in diverse ways.

Effective self-quizzing means prompting yourself to access the relevant information. It is not enough to simply consume (read, hear, see a picture of) your subject. Producing it is critical (i.e. speak, write, explain, map out, etc.). This means engaging your study senses!

Think of your brain like an X-ray machine: if you only take X-rays from one angle, you’ll get a flat, two-dimensional image. Boring! Forgettable! But if you were to rotate around, observing from every angle, soon enough you’d get a rich, 3D image of the bone.

In school, every additional study method you use gives you a new angle: textbook reading is one angle, explaining to your study buddy adds another, as does mind-mapping a chapter summary, drawing a flow chart, and so on.

Below are some tried-and-true examples of quizzable study tools. How many have you tried before? How might you use one for your next quiz or test?

  • T-Chart

  • Flashcards (physical or digital)

  • Above/Below: When you do your homework or build study guides, place the answers on a line below the prompt. Then, cover the answers with a piece of paper as you read the question. This allows you to think it out, and immediately get feedback by revealing the correct answer.

  • Quizzable Voice Memo: Record your flashcards as an audio track, pausing after each question to quiz yourself on the answer.

Reflection Questions

Another great way to round out your understanding is to ask deeper questions about the content you’re studying. This is a powerful study method – one that too many students overlook.

This skill, it turns out, comes in handy in many life situations. In relationships, in grad school, in thinking about your work opportunities (and the ones you believe are inaccessible), it is always worth your time to ask, “What am I not noticing here? What am I taking for granted? What questions haven’t I asked yet?”

The Forgetting Curve and Spaced Repetition

It may seem intuitive to you that repetition helps you learn, but the science of it is pretty interesting. Have you ever heard of the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve?

Reflection Question Ideas

  • Describe a movie/television scene that depicts this concept

  • Describe how an animal might portray this concept

  • Describe this concept without using any key words written on the flashcard

  • Draw this concept

  • Give a real life example of this concept

  • How would you explain this to a child/someone who has never heard of it before?

  • What is the opposite of this concept?

  • What situation in your life has depicted this concept?

  • Why is knowledge of this concept useful to you?

According to Hermann Ebbinghaus, how much we retain information depends on a couple of factors:

  • The strength of your memory

  • The amount of time that has passed since learning


And there are two factors that we can influence here:

  • Repetition

  • Quality of memory representation



Repetition is simple enough – the more frequently you study something, the more likely it is to embed itself in your noggin. But what does he mean by “quality of memory representation”? Simply put, it’s about feeling a meaningful connection to the topic. Some important factors include:

  • Is this information important to you?

  • Can you connect it with concepts you already know?

  • Are you able to put it into practice in any meaningful way?

Making Learning Relevant

In school, this can be tough. We often find ourselves asking, “How is this relevant to me? Why do I need to study calculus to get a degree in history?”

Practically speaking, here’s a good solution: at times when the content of what you’re learning doesn’t feel highly relevant to your goals, remember that the learning process is always extremely relevant to your personal and academic goals. Without a doubt, the ability to learn new skills and subjects quickly is worth its weight in gold. In college, graduate school, or studying a new language while traveling… learning how to learn is probably the most useful skill out there.

So, when you’re banging your head against the wall on a physics assignment, just remember: maybe the content doesn’t feel relevant to you long-term—but the process truly is. And you’re in it anyway, so you may as well get skills at building skills.

Andrew Delman